The Link between Mental Health and Personal Hygiene

dental hygiene and mental health

A little while ago a friend told me about how she was long overdue a dental appointment and that it was causing her severe anxiety. She said she knew she *really* needed to go but that she felt she was ‘told off’ each time she went for leaving it too long and for neglecting her teeth. The threat of this dressing down was enough to have her continuing to dodge the dentist’s chair.

“When I’m going through a bout of bad mental health the first item to be neglected is brushing my teeth. Getting out of bed on a bad day is an achievement in itself, let alone taking care of myself, washing my face, brushing my hair or my teeth.”

Having similar feelings about my dentist, I looked online and found that it’s quite common for people who suffer from depression, anxiety or similar disorders to have issues with oral health; mainly caused by neglect. Whilst it’s all too easy to tell someone that they just need to brush twice a day and floss, actually, sometimes that is asking too much.

Personally, mine can swing in either direction. Sometimes I’ll struggle to find the strength to brush my teeth at all and at other times I’ll be brushing them too hard and too vigorously, both of which can cause issues for your dental health and both of which I have been ‘told off’ for at the dental practice. But at what point should it be accepted that not everyone is going to be able to keep up dental hygiene practices at all times due to mental health?

One of the worst things about mental illness is how it seeps into so many parts of your life, affecting even the most mundane things, like showering and brushing your teeth. And we often struggle to talk about this part of mental health. One of the reasons why we struggle to talk about it is because hygiene is moralized when it shouldn’t be.


Most commonly, reduced ability to maintain personal hygiene whilst suffering from poor mental health is due to the low levels of motivation, loss of interest in activities and reduced levels of energy to carry out day to daily tasks, routines or chores.

One response to a low mood could be to let personal hygiene and the cleanliness of your environment slip. This could be in the form of letting the dishes build up in the sink, not washing your hair for weeks on end, or not emptying the bins. The opposite response is to become more obsessed with personal hygiene and cleanliness, often overwashing or over-cleaning your personal space.

Patients with severe mental health conditions are 2.7 times more likely to lose all of their teeth, and multiple studies have shown that patients grappling with their mental health have higher rates of gum disease and tooth decay

Armed with this information I feel quite strongly about talking to my dentist about this at my next appointment. Yes it’s overdue and yes I’m most likely going to be referred to the hygienist for an unpleasant session… but if it helps her realise that scolding me for my lax dental health and insisting I floss every day isn’t going to help me, she may reassess how she interacts with future patients that have long gaps in between appointments and struggle with their oral hygiene.

Perhaps if we all start this discussion with our dental practices it’ll open up a bigger and better conversation about the link between dental hygiene and mental health and perhaps we’ll see dentists taking the initiative to assist patients with their dental issues, providing them with helpful and reassuring guidance instead.

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